N.C. coastal regulators determine offshore seismic survey inconsistent with state policy

A ship drags cables that have devices blasting soundwaves through the ocean. [file photo]

The N.C. Division of Coastal Management has found that a proposed seismic survey related to oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast is inconsistent with state coastal management policies.

After review, the agency formally objected to the proposed activity by WesternGeco and found it inconsistent with state policies as outlined in a letter to the company from Coastal Management Director Braxton Davis.

“Our review included substantial input from outside subject matter experts, North Carolina state agencies and the general public,” Davis said. “Based on our review, we have determined that the proposed seismic surveys would have significant adverse impacts on fish and marine food webs, sensitive fish habitats, commercial and recreational fisheries, and the coastal economy.”

WesternGeco proposes to conduct a Marine Geophysical Survey via 2D seismic survey off the North Carolina coast to gather geological and geophysical data that could provide information about the feasibility of future development of offshore oil and gas resources. The full proposed survey area extends from approximately 19 miles offshore of the southeast coast of Maryland south to approximately 50 miles offshore of St. Augustine, Florida. The survey would involve a vessel towing a seismic airgun array, with operations occurring an estimated 208 days over a period of about a year.

This graphic shows how seismic airgun testing is used to locate oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor. [Oceana image]
The Division of Coastal Management anticipates that airgun arrays will fire approximately every 10 seconds and be in continuous operation as weather and other logistics allow. Sound will be generated across a wide range of frequencies, from approximately 10 to 2000 Hz, with noise levels generally ranging from 225 to 260 decibels.

The survey would take place entirely in federal waters, adjacent to North Carolina’s coastal zone. State law does not require coastal development permits for projects outside of the state waters, but the federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires that projects needing federal permits be found consistent with the state’s coastal policies when the proposed activity may affect any land use, water use or natural resource within the state’s coastal zone.

Under the Coastal Zone Management Act, WesternGeco may appeal the state’s objection to the federal secretary of commerce, who can override or sustain the state objection. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of receipt.

Documents pertaining to the proposed project are available on the division’s website.